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Tuesday, after meeting in executive session, the Collin County Commissioners voted 3 - 1 "to authorize the County Judge to enter into an agreement with the Teen Court coordinator".
This vague Court order sealed the fate of Justin Nichols, the openly gay coordinator of the Teen Court. He was paid to go away quietly. The commissioners have enforced their unwritten anti-gay policy.
Last month, during the ruckus that followed when a Dallas newspaper reported that an openly gay county employee was running for Plano City Council, the county adamantly denied that it had a "don't ask, don't tell policy". It appears they were telling a partial truth. The full policy can be summed up as a "not heterosexual, not employed" policy.
For weeks now, I've been hearing rumors that Mr. Nichols was summoned by the county administration and told that he could agree to a settlement and go away quietly, or the Teen Court program and it's coordinator would be cut from the next budget. Multiple sources who are familiar with the issue told me that Nichols took the money and that all parties signed a (probably illegal) non-disclosure agreement - yesterday, the commissioners court made it official.
Only one commissioner had the courage to loudly vote "NO" to the settlement proposal. Phyllis Cole lost the run off election in part to vicious rumors accusing her of supporting an openly gay man as the leader of the Teen Court program. The rumors did cause a right wing backlash that certainly cost her some votes in an election she lost by only 30 votes. Yet when the roll was called, she alone spoke up and voted "NO".
One can expect this type of anti gay animosity from Jerry Hoagland and Keith Self. Neither one has been reticent in their opinions. However, Joe Jaynes took, in this writer's opinion, the coward's way out in being afraid to vote against running off an employee because of sexual orientation. Jaynes is up for re-election, and I suppose was afraid of facing the same attacks that brought down Ms. Cole.
Tuesday, we learned just how far we still need to go before a worker is judged by his work alone, instead of by the prejudices of his employers. This sad episode makes urgent the need to pass a real Equal Opportunity Employment policy for government employees.
As we have come to expect from this commissioners court, all the negotiations and arrangements were made in secret.
However, taxpayer money should never be, in my opinion, spent in secret deals. I have sent the following letter to the county requesting copies of all settlement and non-disclosure agreements that relate to the employment of Justin Nichols.
The Collin County Observer
June 11, 2008
Tim Wyatt, Public Information Officer
Collin County Government Center
210 S. McDonald, Suite 636
McKinney, TX 75069
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL
I want to remind you of my request last week for a copy of the settlement agreement of the Collin County v. SAP/Siemens lawsuit approved by the commissioners court.
Also, I hereby request, under the Texas Open Records Act, a copy of the settlement negotiated with Justin Nichols to leave the employ of the county that was authorized by the commissioners court at the June 10, 2008 meeting. I also request a copy of any non-disclosure agreements signed by Mr. Nichols, the County Judge, the County Commissioners or any other employee of the county that relate to the employment of Justin Nichols.
I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. I would prefer scanned electronic copies, but if required, I will be able to accept paper copies.
The Collin County Observer will keep its readers apprised of the results of the Open Records Request.
I am shocked that Justin has been forced to resign his position. He is an asset to the our community.
The Collin County Government needs an overhaul. Meaning clean house and start over!
I am proud to serve the county as its Teen Court Coordinator and believe that we have reached hundreds of teens through the program. I am passionate about my work and will continue to strive for the program until my employment with Collin County changes - by whatever means that may be.
I have hope that the leadership of our county will recognize the importance of Teen Court and prevent it's discontinuation.
The issue is unresolved.
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